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Sen. Joe Biden talks to Don Imus

The Delaware Senator on the CIA leak, terrorism and the Supreme Court nomination

DON IMUS, HOST: All right.  Please now welcome the next president of the United States...
Unless McCain runs, and then we’ll have to see who’s ahead in the polls, Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. 

IMUS: Good morning, Senator Biden. 

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  If McCain runs, we’ll ask him if I can be his running mate.

IMUS:  Well, I have—it’s going to be a tough one.  I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. 

BIDEN:  I’ll tell you, I don’t know what I’d do.  He’s the most popular guy in the country. 

IMUS: How are you?

BIDEN:  I’m doing well.  I’m doing well.  A little disappointed in our failure to step up to the ball and do something about protecting rail service in this country, but other than that, I’m doing well. 

IMUS:  What did I hear somebody say, was it Chernoff who said that more people were going to be killed either on airplanes or as a result of some terrorist act with an airplane as on September 11, 2001, so that’s why they weren’t protecting trains and buses?

BIDEN:  Yes, that’s what he said.  He went on to say it should be the state’s responsibility.  He said as bad as it is, the rail is only going to get 20, 30, 50, 100 people killed, but the truth of the matter is, I don’t know where—he’s not doing his homework. 

Right now as we speak, there’s going to—there’s more people sitting in an aluminum tube underneath the city of New York in a tunnel that hasn’t been—has no ventilation, no lighting, no escape, than there are in a half a dozen full 747’s. 

I mean, the ability to have a catastrophic attack on rail is real, and it’s just a shame, what we’re doing.  Or not doing. 

IMUS:  Where do we get the—where do we get the people and the money to do it?

BIDEN:  Well, look, I mean, my dad used to say, if everything’s equally important to you, nothing is important to you.  The fact of the matter is that I can think of no higher priority than protecting the American citizens from terror that is expected. 

I want to emphasize the word “expected.”  This isn’t something that was out of the blue.  We’ve known for some time, most of the attacks have been on rail.  There are more people who visit Union Station in Washington, D.C., than any other facility in the entire Washington complex. 

Drive a train in there at 140 miles per hour, you got yourself a real problem.  There are no guards.  There are very few guards, no cameras, no fencing around critical areas. 

I mean, it’s just—look, you know, the argument kind of is, we have all this rail, Joe, so you can’t protect it all.  I’m not saying protect it all.  But I’m saying you can protect those places where, if there is a weapon of mass destruction, a chemical weapon or even a significant explosion. 

Let me give you one example.  I’ll get off my hobby horse here.  My colleagues are tired of hearing me about this the last three years. 

IMUS:  I’d like to..  Senator Biden...

BIDEN:  In the Navy, what would happen if one 90-ton chlorine gas tanker blew up in a metropolitan area, and they said 100,000 people would die, 100,000 people die.  And we let these things run underneath the tunnels in cities and towns, and we don’t do anything about it.  Crazy. 

IMUS:  We like when we --- Senator Biden? BIDEN:  Yes?

IMUS:  We like when we have you on for a number of reasons.  One of them is that we don’t have to talk very much. 

BIDEN:  It’s a bad problem I have.  I’m sorry. 

IMUS:  No, it’s not a bad—no, it’s not at all.  No, I’m not complaining.  I’m just saying, I can ask you something and then go make some espresso, go warm up the truck.  I mean—while I’m still, of course, focusing on what you’re saying. 

And your dad was right, by the way.  That’s a good observation.  And you’re right.  And in a totally—in a not totally unrelated issue, I notice you and others are still trying to get the president to level with us on what’s going on what’s going on in Iraq.  What is going on in Iraq?  What should he be telling the American people?

BIDEN:  He should be telling the American people it’s going to be at least another year and a half.  We don’t have enough troops there.  We’re trying to train up Iraqi troops.  It’s going to take at least a year, maybe two, to do that.  It’s going to cost us another $75 to $100 billion.  We need to do it, and here’s why.  But he’s not doing that. 

IMUS:  Well, I occasionally—in fact, often talk to these reporters, Richard Engel and a number of other people, and they never say that things are going as the president says they’re going.  And so the president has to recognize that the American people have access to the news on the radio and on television, and why he wouldn’t level with us, I don’t know what the motive is.

BIDEN:  Well, you know, I’m not sure.  I mean, these guys just stay on message.  I think they think that if you say it and keep saying it and keep saying it and keep saying it, then the American people will buy it. 

But, you know, I said before to you that no foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people.  And they know that what they’re being told is not accurate, and, therefore, they’re leaving this effort in droves.  Once they leave, our guys are out there hanging. 

IMUS:  It’s 22 minutes until the hour here on the IMUS IN THE MORNING program, on the radio all over the country and on MSNBC.  We’re having some significant technical difficulties this morning, but we are able to talk with Senator Joe Biden. 

And not—again, on an item not unrelated this, whole business with Karl Rove, what is that all about?  I mean, I know what it’s about, but...

BIDEN:  I think every American understands what it’s about.  I heard the sports being broadcast, saying we got that blue collar ethic.  Well, every blue collar person in America, every working person knows this is all about getting back at a guy named Joe Wilson and punishing him.  Everybody knows it.  You can wrap it 50 different ways. 

You can argue whether or not a law was broken or it wasn’t broken, but the bottom line was, you know, it was gotcha behavior.  That’s the way these guys work. 

And now the president’s got a problem, and he’s lowering the bar now.  Anybody involved in this at all goes, now he says anybody committed a crime goes.

IMUS:  Why can’t we find out, first of all, who sent Joe Wilson to Niger?

BIDEN:  Well, I think we can do that.  We get—there’s this whole notion that you get told something by the intelligence community, you can’t repeat it.  And so when we go find out who physically sent Joe Wilson, you know, then you’re in this conundrum where you can’t say it, because you learned it from the intelligence community. 

I think they should just come straightforward.  The president should declassify that and lay out to the American people who did it—who sent him.  But the bottom line is, what difference does it make who sent him?  He was right.  Guess what?  There was no yellow cake from Niger going to—excuse me—going to Saddam Hussein.  That’s the bottom line.  The guy was right. 

IMUS:  Well then—and they keep saying—you’re right about raising the bar.  I mean, a number of people—I saw David Gregory making that observation yesterday, but—the president raising the bar.  I guess he initially said anybody who leaked anything would be—well, he said taken care of.  That sounds like something some mob guy would say, doesn’t it?  What does that mean, to be taken care of?

BIDEN:  If Karl Rove was taken care of, he’d worry.  The president, he doesn’t worry much.

IMUS: Yes, so—but—the troubling aspect for people in the media—I’m not a reporter but a lot of these folks are, and almost half of the people who appear on this program are—is locking these people up because they won’t reveal their sources.  What’s your view on all that?

BIDEN:  Well, I don’t think they should be locked up.  I supported a bill with Dick Lugar we’re having hearings on I think as early as tomorrow on giving them a waiver. 

A significant number of states say you don’t have to release your sources.  I think we should have it.  It’s called a shield law, and I think we should have it similarly for the—at a federal level. 

So I don’t think you should...

IMUS:  It’s an interesting take.

BIDEN:  At least in this country.  There could be circumstances where it’s so against U.S. interests, where it amounts to essentially, you know, about espionage and you don’t report it.  That’s a different deal.  But in this kind of case, I don’t think they should be locked up. 

IMUS:  Well, you would think common sense in that kind of an instance would prevail, but maybe not. 

And then we have the Supreme Court.  The president, I guess, is going to make an announcement.  Do you know when?

BIDEN:  No, I don’t.  I heard rumors as early as late last night that one of the senior Senators and Republicans went down to meet with the president.  He may have—have you know, a new nominee.  If he does, I’m unaware of it.

But look, there’s just a lot at stake.  Everybody asked me at home, you know, why is everybody getting so exercised about this?  Well, there’s just a whole lot at stake here.  And it occurs every once in awhile in the nation’s history where there’s a lot hanging in the balance, and this is one of those moments. 

IMUS:  Well, he’s probably going to appoint somebody who is conservative, I would think. 

BIDEN:  That’s fine. 

IMUS:  Well, what wouldn’t be fine?

BIDEN:  What wouldn’t be fine—look, here’s what I—I kind of view it kind of simplistically. 

What’s at stake here is whether or not the government is going to be able to intrude into our personal choices, like the Terri Schiavo kinds of cases.  There’s a whole body of law that some of the very conservative justices, the right wing judges think should be overruled that will allow the government to intervene in your personal life much more than it does now. 

And there’s a second—and the other side of that coin is, there’s a whole body of law that’s been in place for 80 years that a lot of conservatives would like to overturn that allows government to act as your shield, shield between you and the powerful. 

For example, should the government be able to pass laws that say you can’t target children when you advertise for cigarettes?  Should the government be able to protect your banking records?  Should they be able to—I mean, all these things were government intervenes on your side, and so there’s two sides of the coin. 

But the same coin is in the hand of the far right, which argues that these fundamental contracts, in effect, we’ve had between government and the people in the last 70, 80 years should be changed, that they are wrong.  And that government should be able to intrude more in your personal life and should not be able to intervene between you and the powerful financial interests, who they think needs more leeway to be able to make the country great. 

Big deal stuff.

IMUS:  Because—because it’s a woman retiring, Sandra Day O’Connor, does—does that suggest here he should appoint a woman?  Or what?

IMUS:  Well, it suggests to me he probably has a lot of incentive to appoint a woman.  It’s—the idea of only one woman being on the bench is sort of inconsistent with which most people think we’ve progressed to.  There’s going to come a day when half the people are women, at least half the people.  And so there’s going to be some pressure. And there are some very hard right conservative women who would fit the category if he decides to engage this in a real donnybrook. 

But he can go the other route.  He can pick—there’s some mainstream conservative women out there, and he can do what Clinton did.  He can pick folks like Breyer, who got almost a unanimous vote, and who are viewed as, you know, sort of down the middle moderates.  A little liberal on some things, more conservative on administrative law.  He can make that kind of choice, as well. 

IMUS:  But if he picks somebody—I mean, kind of explain the process to me, just because I either forget or—maybe I just don’t know.  Let’s just say that he picks somebody Democrats really don’t like.  And is there an effective way for you guys to prevent that?

BIDEN:  Well, yes.  I mean, for example, Reagan picked Bork...

IMUS:  Right.

BIDEN:  ... who was on the edge in terms of where the mainstream American law was at the time and I think still is.  And although the Democrats control the Congress, there are a lot of southern Democrats there.  And what happened was we had to persuade people, you know.  And we persuaded a clear majority of the—and some Republicans that he shouldn’t be in the court. 

That’s the one option.  Persuade people that this person is really out of the mainstream.  The second—if that person is. 

And the second option is, which is rarely used, and I’m not proposing it, is that you filibuster.  You say, look, this person is so bad, and that 41 people think that there shouldn’t even be a vote on that. 

I do not predict that will happen.  That is an extreme measure with regard to the Supreme Court.  It’s been employed by Republicans in the past, years ago, but it’s not a preferred option.  And I think that would only occur if the person appointed were so, so far out that—and there wasn’t enough—there weren’t enough Republicans to stand up to the president.  But I don’t anticipate that. 

IMUS:  I think David Gregory told me, or somebody, might have been him, that Mrs. Bush told him she wanted a woman and that she has some—it’s not like a Nancy Reagan deal, apparently, or Hillary Clinton deal, although I don’t know, and I’m not implying there’s anything wrong with that either, but so that could the case. 

But if not, the name you hear a lot is Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, who often appears, Senator Biden, on this program.  I don’t know whether you knew that or not.

BIDEN:  I do.  And I think he—look, he’s a solid guy.  And that’s—look, it’s kind of interesting, Don.  Here you have...

IMUS:  Would he be unacceptable to you?

BIDEN:  Probably.  Probably.  Even though I disagree with his view on how he interpreted the Geneva Convention and so on, you know.  But if I said he was acceptable to me, that would kill him. 

Look, you have the whole—no, I’m serious.  You have this whole right wing out there already engaged in character assassination with—let me throttle that back, engaged in going after him. 

And look, this would become the province of interest groups, for lord’s sake.  You’d have the Chamber of Commerce announcing they’re going to spend 40 million, $50 million.  Why are they so engaged in this?  Why?  I mean, everybody knows that there’s a lot at stake here, and if they get the court to make some of these significant changes in their rulings, then it really is a bonanza for one ideology or one economic interest group. 

And Gonzales seems to me to be, like he was, a judge and a straightforward and pretty solid guy.  But I’d have to see.  I’ve not read all his opinions when he was on the court or anything like that.  But I mean, look, the guy is—he’s a solid guy. 

IMUS:  Finally, Senator Biden, do you have much time off this summer or what?


IMUS:  No?

BIDEN:  Actually I planned on—actually I’m going to take off—my wife is a college—teaches at a junior college, and she goes back to work on the 15th.  So she’s been teaching summer school.  So she has off from August 1 to August 12, and that’s the time I’m not doing anything.  She and I are just hanging out. 

But after that, I’m going to be doing a lot of this preparation for the Supreme Court, for the remainder of the month, doing a little bit of travel around the country. 

IMUS:  Do you do like Kerry, one of those number, or Bush?  He clears brush; Kerry goes wind surfing. 

BIDEN:  No, I don’t have a ranch, Camp David or own a peninsula, you know, so I kind of...

IMUS:  So you don’t do anything we can make...

BIDEN:  Everybody makes fun of me.  I’m a frustrated architect, and I’m always working on my house. 

IMUS:  Oh, OK. 

BIDEN:  And planting more trees and cutting out paths and that kind of stuff.  But I—you can’t do that much.  I live in a little pond, a little 10-acre pond, which is really neat, and I’ve been screwing around, trying to build a little dock for my grandkids.  It’s only about five feet deep.  And I’m not sure they should be swimming in it, but anyway, don’t tell anybody that.  I’ll have the EPA on my back. 

IMUS:  So there’s nothing that you’re going to do that we can get film of and make fun of you?

BIDEN:  No, there’s a lot you can make fun of me about.  Just follow me any day.  But no, nothing in particular. 

IMUS:  All right.  As always, thank you very much, Senator Biden. 

BIDEN:  Thanks an awful lot.  Bye-bye.